30. September 2019 | Service tips

Online shopping abroad: a real bargain or a real risk?

A wider choice, lower prices: almost two thirds (66 percent) of German online shoppers have already been on a bargain hunt in a foreign online shop. Clothing and electronic items such as smartphones, game consoles and headphones are popular items - Asian online shops in particular often attract customers with especially attractive offers.

However, these supposed 'bargains' often have unpleasant consequences. This is because while purchasers from European online shops can rely on EU-wide directives covering consumer rights and, for example, claim a 14-day right of return, there are no uniform rules for purchases from non-EU shops. Six out of ten customers (60.5 percent) who have purchased goods from an online shop outside the EU report problems: the most serious complaints include incorrect or defective articles, goods that were received too late or not at all, and lack of any opportunities to contact the dealer.

What consumers should be careful about

Again and again online shoppers are not even aware that they are not shopping in a German shop. The reason for this is that the address .de is interpreted as an actual place of business in Germany. However, the top-level domain says nothing about where the retailer operates the shop. It is therefore essential that you find out from the legal notice on the shop website where your goods come from. If the legal notice is incomplete or there is even no legal notice at all, it's better to avoid the shop. The cancellation instructions and the general terms and conditions must also show the registered location of the retailer. In the EU shoppers must actively agree to both. If there are no cancellation instructions or general terms and conditions, it is sure to be a shop outside the EU.

You should also check the contact options provided. Is the relevant data available? Can you really reach a person who can help you if necessary? In addition, it is always worth researching the experience reports of other customers. In this way you can evaluate in advance what to expect.

What to think about when purchasing from outside the EU

Additional costs may arise in the form of customs duties and import sales tax. The decisive factor is the total value of the consignment, i.e. the value of the goods and the shipping costs. If both together are less than 22 euros, there is no customs duty. Shipments with a total value of between 22 and 150 euros are duty-free, but are subject to import tax at 7% and 19% respectively. For shipments with a value of 150 euros or more, additional customs duty is payable. The amount depends on the type of imported goods. You should therefore check with your nearest customs office before making a purchase.

Your goods will only be delivered to your home if the seller has provided a complete customs declaration. Otherwise, the shipment will end up at the nearest customs office and you will need to provide the missing information in order to release your shipment.

Sometimes you will not receive your parcel at all. Especially electronic articles purchased from Asian shops often lack technical compatibility or CE marking. However, as this serves as proof of the EU's safety and health requirements, customs can refuse to allow the import of potentially dangerous articles. The situation is similar with suspiciously cheap branded articles, which are often counterfeit products - and the purchase is punishable by law. At best, the customs authorities will destroy the goods, at worst you may have to prove your innocence. So the alleged bargain can quickly become an expensive pitfall.

With online purchases in other EU countries the dealer usually bears the cost of any returns. In non-EU countries you cannot rely on this goodwill. And depending on the dealer's location, the return shipment can be expensive. You should therefore inform yourself about costs and return conditions before making a purchase.

Conclusion: the different legal situation of online shops outside the EU offers customers less consumer protection than is the case with purchases made inside the EU. As a customer, you run the risk of paying extra for your bargain at the end of the day. However, you can save money in non-EU online shops – provided you inform yourself well about the shop and the terms of delivery.